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Selected Excerpts

On the Eating of Flesh:

Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstaining from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man who did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature; he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds?

The skins shivered;
and upon the spits
the flesh bellowed,
Both cooked and raw;
the voice of kine
was heard.

Though this is an invention and a myth, yet that sort of dinner is really portentous — when a man craves the meat that is still bellowing, giving instructions which tell us on what animals we are to feed while they are still alive uttering their cries, and organizing various methods of seasoning and roasting and serving. It is the man who first began these practices that one should seek out, not him who all too late desisted.

Or would everyone declare that the reason for those who first instituted flesh-eating was the necessity of their poverty? It was not while they passed their time in lawful desires Dnor when they had necessaries in abundance that after indulgence in unnatural and antisocial pleasures they resorted to such a practice. If, at this moment, they could recover feelings and voice, they might, indeed, remark: "Oh blessed and beloved of the Gods, you who live now, what an age has fallen to your lot wherein you enjoy and assimilate a heritage abounding in good things! How many plants grow for you! What vintages you gather! What wealth you may draw from the plains and what pleasant sustenance from trees! Why, you may even live luxuriously without the stain of blood. But as for us, it was a most dismal and fearful portion of the world's history the confronted us, falling as we did into great and unbearable poverty brought on by our first appearance among the living. As yet the heavens and the stars were concealed by dense air that was contaminated with turbid moisture, not easily to be penetrated, and fire and furious wind. Not yet was the sun established undeviating

In his firm course,
Dividing day and night;
he brought them back
Again and crowned them
with the fruitful hours
All wreathed with bloom,
while violence

had been done to earth by rivers pouring forth their floods at random and most parts were deformed by pools. Earth was made a wilderness by deep quagmires and the unfruitful growth of thickets and forests; nor was there as yet any agricultural production or professional tool or any resource of skill. Our hunger gave us no respite nor was there any seed at that time awaiting the annual season of sowing. What wonder if, contrary to nature, we made use of the flesh of beasts when even mud was eaten and the bark of trees devoured, and to light on sprouting grass or the root of a rush was a piece of luck? When we had tasted and eaten acorns we danced for joy around some oak, calling it "lifegiving" and "mother" and "nurse." This was the only festival that those times had discovered; all else was a medley of anguish and gloom. But you who live now, what madness, what frenzy drives you to the pollution of shedding blood, you who have such a superfluity of necessities?

Why slander the earth by implying that she cannot support you? Why impiously offend law-giving Demeter and bring shame upon Dionysus, lord of the cultivated vine, the gracious one, as if you did not receive enough from their hands? Are you not ashamed to mingle domestic crops with blood and gore? You call serpents and panthers and lions savage, but you yourselves, by your own foul slaughters, leave them no room to outdo you in cruelty; for their slaughter is their living, yours is a mere appetizer."

It is certainly not lions and wolves that we eat out of self-defence; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us, creatures that, I swear, Nature appears to have produced for the sake of their beauty and grace.